To i3 or Not to i3? That is the Question

Saturday 11th January 2014

Impressions of the BMW i3.

Along with the other ActiveE Electronaut’s, we had been invited to an event specifically for us to see and test drive the i3 at BMW HQ of North America – Hmm, sounds nice.

I had left the house with a totally open mind, I had been told by many that the i3 needed to be seen in person. ‘You really need to see it live,’ I heard over and over again. Well let’s see…

We had an 86.8 mile round trip and knew we wouldn’t make it there and back on a single charge. Fortunately BMW have some chargers at HQ so we would be able to get some charge back in the car and hopefully make it home again.

At 11:40 we got in the car and programmed our destination into the satellite navigation. She thought for a while and then proclaimed that it was 222 miles and, we would get there at 17:30 – this is not the first time she has miscalculated! Hmm, that could be a problem, seeing as the event ended at 17:00. We cancelled the navigation and opted to avoid motorways – hoping to conserve some power. She predicted a distance of 46 miles – that’s more like it – and an arrival time of 13:20. That meant it was going to take over an hour and a half which currently meant we’d be a bit late. We drove on the back roads for a bit then decided to go on to the motorway as the time to destination was increasing and we didn’t want to be too late. We’d just drive gently on the  motorway and hope we didn’t use too much power. Oh, and I forgot to say, the heat was already turned off and we had our blankets wrapped around along with our coats, scarves and gloves on – Still true Pioneers!

We arrived at HQ 10 minutes early, and with 50% charge left. We could probably just make it back but, it would be very close. We parked up, handed over the key to the BMW guys who offered to charge the cars while we were at the event.

We headed inside HQ and while waiting for the start of the event, caught up with some fellow Electronauts.

After the welcome we were spilt into three groups – we headed off to the ‘Charging/Engineering Session’ first. It was interesting to see the batteries and the technology that has gone into the i3. It was a shame though that our host continually tried to put down Tesla. That was not a good move and instantly made me cross. I was not the only one in our group to be put out by his comments, I was not there to hear tit for tat, I was there to hear about the i3 however, as he continued, he actually exposed a few weaknesses in the design of the pack!

Next session was the ‘Product Walk Around’. Here we got to hear about what features the i3 had and why it was better than the ActiveE and oh… How it was lighter and how they couldn’t add this because it would increase the weight and how they couldn’t add that because it would increase the weight. Hmm – not overly impressed at this point, all I’m hearing is, can’t add this, can’t add that – What actually is left?

i3 Michael driving
Next was the ‘Test Drive’, this will be interesting! As we walked out to the cars – still with an open mind, I looked at the row of i3’s and my first thought was it’s a posher version of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Oh, and it looks exactly like the pictures I’ve seen. I don’t get it, it was suppose to look better in real life but it doesn’t. Shoulders slump! Oh, well, lets see how it drives.
i3 on the road
We get into the car, Michael driving first, and um, not really sure what to say. It’s okay but it isn’t great. It accelerates really well and the regen is really powerful, so that’s two good things. The interior is okay, but just okay. I don’t think it’s up to BMW standards, it’s rather blah to be honest. I was hoping for more, no, I had expected more from all the publicity surrounding its launch. The controls on the steering wheel are just weird, the start/stop button is tucked away behind the steering wheel and not easy to reach.
i3 instruments
The control to go forwards and backwards just doesn’t seem right – it’s in a weird place behind the steering wheel. What were you thinking BMW? The display panels are okay but again nothing spectacular. I didn’t feel like I was in a BMW. After nearly two years in the ActiveE there are things I have come to like. The feeling of solidity and being glued to the road. I didn’t get that with the i3. I wasn’t in a BMW.

i3 rear seats
The worst part about the test drive was the way the car bounced around, it was a bit on the wibbly-wobbly side, it made me feel rather queasy. It’s probably because the car is high up and not close to the ground like the ActiveE. Maybe if it had the bigger wheels that would help. I got out of the car feeling sick – never a good sign.  I didn’t drive the car as my stomach said, “Please don’t, it will be a really bad idea!

Okay, I’ll admit it, I have grown to like the ActiveE. Not the colour obviously, but the car yes.  My first choice would be the MINI E but then I would choose the ActiveE, especially if it was available in different colours and if it was the European hatchback version – you could sign me up today – I don’t ask for much! I’ve come to like the way the ActiveE feels and handles, the way it sticks to the road, the way it obeys my commands, well most of the time – Rainy days when I drive over a manhole cover and the back wheels slip still surprise me! Most bizarre.

So where does that leave me? I know the MINI E isn’t coming back – and that’s a real shame, I know the ActiveE won’t be made into a real electric car, also a shame. Will I give the i3 another chance? Maybe I will. I’m interested to see what the i3 Electronaut edition will be… Oh, I do hope it isn’t white!

After the event we headed out to find our ActiveE. Getting in, it felt right. If fact, we’ve never been so happy to be back in the ActiveE. I set the destination to home, only 43.4 miles this time.

While at the event BMW said that they had been listening to us and watching us – a little scary. If this is the case then why haven’t they made a car that most of us seemed to be asking for – A car that was more like the MINI E with more range? Another 20 miles range would be perfect, but instead they are offering a petrol tank and an engine to add more range – Are you serious? We’re being offered a plug-in-hybrid? A few more batteries would be much more pleasant and wouldn’t be polluting the air. Are you telling me the engine doesn’t add weight? If, as they say, they were listening to us, they didn’t listen very well. Or is there an ulterior motive for what BMW made? A car that won’t accidentally decimate sales of the current models?

To be honest, we’re undecided over the i3. There is first-hand evidence that the 20″ wheel upgrade firms up the suspension, however, with BMW and BMW Financial services seemingly not talking to one another, and no clear idea of what the rumored i3 Electronaut Edition will be, we’re just going along with the flow and hoping that it all works out.


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